A recent article on a related subject raised the idea of including an explicit “None of the Above” option on ballot papers, and this idea had some support in the Comments.
The idea of a “None of the above” option on the ballot paper is not a new one and there have in fact been campaigns in its favour, in the U.K. and elsewhere in the world (see Wikipedia, which covers it in detail). In India the Election Commission told the Supreme Court that voters should be offered a “None of the above” option at the ballot. The Supreme Court ruled in favour and in the Indian General Election of 2014, NOTA polled 1.1% of the “votes”.
Clearly the number of NOTA choices (they are not strictly votes) should be counted and totals should be included in the statement of the results of the election. But campaigners in favour of NOTA frequently spoil their case by insisting that NOTA choices, if they total more than the votes for the successful candidate, should involve immediate electoral consequences – the election should be re-run, new nominations should be sought, or whatever. This idea is much less likely to find favour and should not be part of the package. NOTA choices should be counted, but life has to go on and they should not affect the result of the election.
The NOTA option has not been backed by governments and its appearance in India is probably due to a particularity of the Indian constitution. In Britain, it could only be adopted by legislation and under the old two-party system, it would not have stood a chance. It is obviously not very attractive to any well-established political party which normally fields candidates. UKIP now increasingly fields candidates in most constituencies. Nevertheless I think the NOTA option should be part of UKIP policy.
NOTA differentiates clearly between electors who have no desire to participate in the political process and electors who want to participate in it, but who see no easy or legal way of doing so. The NOTA score is a measure of popular dissatisfaction with the political set-up. An increasingly high NOTA score, whether in a particular part of the country or in the country as a whole, is wake-up call to political establishments and an index of opportunity for people with new political ideas. This is a valuable part of a democratic system.
Electors who currently feel frustrated with the voting options available to them currently have two alternatives: they can simply not vote; or they can spoil their ballot paper or leave it blank. Neither of these options is satisfactory. If they just don’t vote, they have no political influence and can be disregarded. But to spoil a ballot paper or leave it blank is a rebellious gesture not against the candidates but against the electoral process. There is nothing wrong with the electoral process and the good citizen has no desire to throw a spanner into the works. Give him NOTA and he has a more socially acceptable option.
Thinking politically, inclusion of NOTA in the UKIP programme would gain votes and possibly even enthusiastic members – and those enthusiastic members might even be young. And what would UKIP have to lose by it?